This Memorial Day, we’re paying special tribute to the history of women who have served this country. Women have played a part in every war throughout the history of our country. That’s right - every single one. And as of September 2015, more than 2 million women have served. While it was illegal in the early wars, women still found ways to serve for our country and assist in numerous ways outside of combat. These women have broken down barriers, acted as influential role models and paved the way for strong, courageous women for generations to come. Check out our list of 7 fearless female veterans who we’re saluting this Memorial Day!
1. Army General Ann E. Dunwoody
After joining the Army in 1974, General Dunwoody was the first woman to serve as a four-star general in both the Army and the U.S. armed forces. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps in 1975 before becoming a commander of the Army Materiel Command, one of the largest commands in the Army. At her retirement ceremony in 2012, Dunwoody gave an inspiring speech about the progression of prominent female forces in the Army, stating:
"Over the last 38 years I have had the opportunity to witness women soldiers jump out of airplanes, hike 10 miles, lead men and women, even under the toughest circumstances," she said. "And over the last 11 years I've had the honor to serve with many of the 250,000 women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on battlefields where there are no clear lines, battlefields where every man and woman had to be a rifleman first. And today, women are in combat, that is just a reality. Thousands of women have been decorated for valor and 146 have given their lives. Today, what was once a band of brothers has truly become a band of brothers and sisters."
We salute General Dunwoody for her significant contributions to the Army and for empowering women around her to make powerful impacts in the armed forces.
2. Grace Murray Hopper
Known as Amazing Grace to her peers, Commodore Hopper's contributions to the U.S. Navy were influential to the development of modern computer technology. She joined the United States Naval reserves during World War II in 1943 and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project. There, she became the third programmer of the world’s first large-scale computer called the Mark I. While working on the Mark I computer, she coined the turn “a bug in the computer” after finding a moth caught inside.
Hopper is the founder of the COBOL programming language which was a precursor to many of the software coding methods that we have today. Hopper retired from the Naval Reserves as a Commander in 1966 but then returned to active duty a year later to help standardize computer programs and their languages. She was then promoted to Captain in 1973 and special advisor to the Commander of Naval Data Automation Command in 1977.
In 1985 she was again promoted to rear admiral, making her one of the few women admirals in the history of the U.S. Navy. Because of her tremendous contributions to the Navy, she has a destroyer named after her, the USS Hopper DDG-70, and a supercomputer, the Cray XE6 “Hopper”. Her work has made her an outstanding model in the world of mathematics and computer science, and we salute her for making a name for women in STEM!
3. Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins grew up with a love of flying and watching planes take off and land with her dad in their family car. It was this love that led her to join the Air Force in 1979 and serve as a T-38 flight instructor until 1982. For the next three years, she was an aircraft commander and instructor pilot, and later became an assistant professor of mathematics at the Air Force Academy. She graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1990. In total, she has over 5,000 hours in 30 different types of aircrafts.
She later became the first woman to command a space shuttle mission, STS-93, in July of 1999, placing her into history books, and spent over 537 hours in space over 4 missions.
Her thoughts on work stress and the feeling of a job well done really spoke to us:
"I flew four times, and all four missions were very busy because you're constantly working and under stress. You have a mission; your boss is the people of the country and you don't want to disappoint the people. Usually toward the end of the mission, you can let your hair down a little bit because the primary mission's done and everything is put away. That was when you could put your face against the glass, stretch out your arms, and you don't even see the ship around you, just the Earth below, and you feel like you're flying over the planet."
4. Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman is best known (and celebrated) for ushering slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. What most people do not know about her is that she served as a cook, a nurse, and even spy for the Union during the Civil War.
She was also the first woman in American history to lead a military expedition, helping Colonel James Montgomery plan a raid to free slaves from plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina. Using the information that Tubman had gathered from her scouts about the Confederates’ positions, three gunboats carrying hundreds of men along with Tubman freed about 750 slaves and did not lose one soldier in the attack.
Reporting on the raid, General Rufus Saxton said, “This is the only military command in American history wherein a woman, black or white, led the raid, and under whose inspiration. it was originated and conducted.”
Can we please put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill already?
5. Sarah Emma Edmonds
Edmonds was born in Canada in 1841, but desperate to escape an abusive father and forced marriage, moved to Flint, Michigan in 1856, where she discovered that life was easier when she dressed as a man. Compelled to join the military out of sense of duty, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as a male field nurse, and went by “Franklin Flint Thompson.”
Edmonds served as a male nurse in several battles that took place during the Maryland Campaign of 1862, including the Second Battles of Manassas and Antietam, during which she dealt with mass casualties as a field nurse.
In addition to serving in the military as a nurse, she is also said to have served as a Union spy and infiltrated the Confederate army several times.
Eventually, Edmonds was hit with malaria and was forced to give up her military career, since she knew she would be discovered if she went to a military hospital. Edmonds was awarded an honorable discharge from the military for her heroic contributions to the Civil War in addition to a government pension and admittance to the Grand Army of the Republic as its only female member.
She continued to serve her country as a nurse at a hospital for soldiers in Washington, D.C., and published her experiences in the bestselling "Nurse and Spy in the Union Army."
6. Cathay Williams
Cathay Williams was the first documented African American female to serve, flipping her name to William Cathay and pretending to be a man in order to serve as a Buffalo soldier at a time when women were not allowed. During her service, she lived through smallpox and several other illnesses.
She was discharged in 1868 when she revealed she was a woman to the post surgeon; however, she paved the way for both women and women of color.
7. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
The youngest of five daughters and one younger brother, Mary Walker was born in 1832.
She volunteered for the Union Army as a civilian nurse at the beginning of the American Civil War, as the Army had no female surgeons; however, after years of non-paid service, she was awarded a commission as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon,” making her the first-ever female U.S. Army surgeon.
During her career, often crossing battle lines to treat injured civilians, she was captured by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy. After her release, she went on to serve in several other battles, in addition to supervising orphanages, becoming a writer and lecturer, and supporting health care, temperance, women’s rights, and dress reform for women.
We are inspired by all of the women who show tremendous strength and brave in order to serve our country, and will be thinking of them this Memorial Day! Are we missing anyone amazing? Comment below!